Positive Approaches to Challenging Behavior

Creating the Hypothesis Statement

Once the FBA data are collected, the information gathered is summarized. The details collected from indirect assessment, direct observation, and functional analysis are used to develop a hypothesis statement and provide evidence that this hypothesis is correct. There are four major sections of a hypothesis statement:

  • Setting events
  • Antecedents or triggers
  • The behavior
  • Consequences

So far, this module has introduced antecedents, strategies for teaching new behaviors, and consequences. The element of the hypothesis statement that has not been addressed is the setting event . Setting events can be physiological, social or environmental in nature and can occur as part of a person's past. Setting events can also be occurring the moments before challenging behavior occurs. Setting events are different than antecedents even though both of these concepts occur before challenging behavior. The difference between the two is that setting events temporarily change the reinforcing value of events, people, items and activities in a child or adults’ every day routines.

A table, each column’s title is one of four sections in a hypothesis statement, setting events, antecedents or triggers, behavior, and consequences, with examples below.
A scatterplot titled setting event occurrences. The scatterplot shows setting events and dates they occurred.

Raj is a 12-year old who is usually full of energy. Raj enjoys going to school and really likes his teacher. However, Raj’s favorite teacher has recently let his mother know that on some days, Raj is reacting in an argumentative manner when asked to complete his assignments. This seems out of the ordinary given Raj’s past interactions and his teacher wanted to share her concerns. She went on to suggest that a functional behavioral assessment might be helpful. During interviews, Raj indicated that sometimes he has fights on the bus with other children and at other times he feels that his mother is prompting him too much to get ready for school in the morning. When these events occur, Raj says he feels irritated and more likely to argue with others. The two possible setting events may be making Raj more likely to be feel irritated and argumentative. Raj’s mom had another theory, she felt that maybe Raj isn’t getting enough sleep at night. Together, Raj and his team wrote down these three possible setting events and collected data on how often he is having trouble in class. It turned out that the fights on the bus were most often occurring on the same days that Raj was coming into class feeling irritated and angry. Raj’s sleep pattern was stable each day but it did seem like Raj’s mom was prompting Raj frequently on the same days as the fights that were occurring on the bus. The team felt Raj really does need more sleep each day even if this is not be a setting event for argumentative behavior. Raj doesn't feel strongly about the sleep theory but is willing to see if more sleep helps him feel better during the day.

Raj liked the idea of creating a self-management plan that helped him get ready in the morning on his own since his mother wouldn't need to prompt him to get ready anymore. Raj’s mom decreased her verbal prompts in the morning since Raj was in charge of following his new morning schedule. Raj’s teacher shared a mindfulness routine with the entire class the next week since all of the students could benefit from learning ways to manage difficult emotions. Raj and his mom added this mindfulness to their own evening routine as well. In addition, the bus driver with support from Raj’s teacher worked with the children to create a universal set of values for riding the bus. These values included peaceful ways to disagree with each other and included celebrating ”fight free” days. When everyone on the bus got along each student received a gift card from the local fast food restaurant. When Raj and his team met three months later, the frequency of challenges had decreased.